Egypt to Canaan: Remembrance

Crossing the Jordan

We are forgetful creatures. Vivid experiences can grow dim as we forget or mutate details. Internalized data fades if we do not review it. What we hear audibly needs repetition. With those limitations in mind, the Lord commanded us to remember the death of Christ on the first day of the week (1Co 11:24-25; Act 20:7). As Israel approached the Jordan River during its harvest flood, the Lord ensured that they had special emblems to remember the wonders that He was about to do before them. Joshua 3 and 4 recount the events that Israel was to remember. We will examine what they were to remember.

Approaching Jordan

“Ye have not passed this way heretofore” (3:4)

The Lord guided Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness by the pillar cloud. Once the Spirit-filled workers crafted the Ark of the Covenant, it led the people forward with the cloud (Num 10:33-36). The last steps into the Promised Land would be no different, as it guided the people to the Jordan River and across it. The Kohathites carried the ark on its staves, draped in the tabernacle veil and badger skin, and covered by the blue cloth. Uniquely, a distance of about 2,000 cubits (nearly 1 km or about 9/16 of a mile) needed to be kept between the head of the congregation and the ark, possibly so that the guiding ark might be seen by all because they hadn’t passed that way before. For the believer today, the land of Canaan represents our enjoyment of spiritual blessings. It must be accessed and enjoyed in the prescribed manner and guidance that God has chosen – in Christ (Eph 1:3).

Preparing to Cross Jordan

“Sanctify yourselves” (3:5)

God’s people needed to be sanctified before He could bless them by bringing them across Jordan into Canaan. He expressly commanded them to “sanctify yourselves.” The people needed to demonstrate sanctification if they were to enjoy the blessing of God. For the believer today, there are verses in each epistle that tell us about our need for practical holiness. These must be obeyed if we are to qualify for entering into the enjoyment of our spiritual blessings. For example, we are to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2Co 7:1);[1] “walk not as other Gentiles walk” (Eph 4:17); and “put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth” (Col 3:5 NET). The blessings of God are spiritual, not carnal. The blessings of God are not enjoyed by worldly means and influence. We must be prepared to enjoy these spiritual blessings by sanctifying ourselves through adherence to the Word of God (Joh 17:17).

Into the Jordan

“The waters … shall stand upon an heap” (3:13)

The sanctified people of God witnessed a miraculous sight. As Joshua said, when the priests bearing the ark stepped into the brim of the water, the waters above the priests heaped up, while the waters below flowed down to the Salt Sea. The way into the land opened up for the people of God.

We can see a vivid picture of Christ as the Ark, going into the waters of death and opening up the pathway to our enjoyment of spiritual blessings. The Jordan heap pushed back to the city of Adam while the remainder flowed on into the Salt Sea (3:16). Christ Jesus has been set forth by God as “a mercy seat,” declaring God righteous for justifying sinners by grace through faith, from Adam until death itself is swallowed up in victory (Rom 3:22-26 JND; 1Co 15:54).

Through Jordan

“What mean ye by these stones?” (4:6,21)

As God continued to withhold the waters after the people had passed over, two different memorials of twelve stones were erected. One would be set up in the “midst of Jordan … where the feet of the priests … stood” (4:9), and the other would result from removing stones from the river and then placing them at Gilgal, “where ye shall lodge this night” (4:3). The stones were to serve as a reminder of Israel’s crossing the Jordan on dry land. They were to instill in Israel a fear of the Lord and show the might of the Lord to all the people of the earth (4:23-24).

God reminds us of two memorials with the truth of Colossians 2:20-3:4. The memorial under the waters of Jordan tells us that we died with Christ. Those laid down at Gilgal tell us we were raised with Christ. God wants us to enjoy the “blessings in heavenly places” presently. This requires a mindset on things above rather than things on the earth, since we died and our life has been hidden with Christ in God. Intriguingly, Joshua 4:19 says it was the 10th day of the 1st month when they arrived in the land; it was the very day when the Passover Lamb was set aside. The foundation of enjoying spiritual blessings must be an appreciation and examination of our Passover Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Failing to Remember Jordan

“[Those] which had known all the works of the LORD” (Jos 24:31)

In the course of time, the memory of Jordan’s events faded away. The second generation of fathers in Canaan had failed to tell their children the answers to the questions “What mean these stones?” and “What mean the testimonies … which the LORD our God hath commanded you?” (Deu 6:20). At the end of his life, Joshua set up another stone of witness at the tabernacle to remind the people of their renewed covenant with the Lord. Yet Joshua 24:31, set against the book of Judges, demonstrates that they didn’t take advantage of any of the stones that the Lord had Joshua set up to aid them.

If we do not soundly teach the next generation, spiritual ground gained will be lost as everyone does “that which [is] right in his own eyes” (Jdg 17:6; 21:25). This is a solemn lesson for mature believers today. Our children must see the reality of the Jordan crossing in our own lives: being taught the truth of what it means to have died with Christ, be risen with Christ, and seek those things which are above. If we cannot present the next generation with sincere, satisfying answers to their questions, it will lead to a continued decline in sanctified Christian living and deterioration in local assemblies.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.